Thoughts on the end of DADT

Leading up to the repeal of DADT on 20 September, I was asked by some members of the press to comment. I did so anonymously, and explicitly stated that my views were my own and were in no way meant to be construed as representative of the Marine Corps. The reporters were fixated on the idea that I didn’t want to come out in the interviews, sometimes to the point of what seemed like misrepresenting what I was saying. I told one of them, “It’s not that I don’t want people to find out I’m gay, it’s that I don’t want them to find out from reading a newspaper or watching the news.” One day discovering the sexuality of a Marine will happen naturally as you ask him if he’s dating anyone and he tells you the person’s name. We aren’t there yet, but we will get there.

As for “coming out” at work, I don’t think I should have to sit people down and tell them I’m gay. But I’m done watching what I say, I’m done being intentionally vague. People need to know that there are gay people in the military who are serving honorably. I don’t need banners and media attention, I just need to be myself and people will come to understand and accept it at their own pace. I am not a second-class citizen, and I won’t let anyone treat me as one anymore. I certainly won’t do it to myself. I deserve better than that.

I absolutely hate when people say, “It’s OK if you’re gay, just don’t rub it in people’s faces.” Obviously the specifics of my sex life aren’t going to be the topics of most conversations, but then I wouldn’t expect straight Marines to be talking about that either. Some do, and I imagine some gay ones will, too. It’s just not the kind of thing I talk about with most people. But I am not going to avoid mentioning a boyfriend or admitting I like Lady Gaga or telling stories about my life, problems, dreams, issues as they come up. I don’t think talking about a boyfriend in the same way a straight Marine would talk about his wife or girlfriend is rubbing it in someone’s face, and I’m offended by the idea that I should be held to a different standard to avoid making ignorant people uncomfortable.

I have served my country for almost 10 years without so much as a peep about my social life. Indeed, I haven’t had much of a social life because of this policy. It’s my turn to live my life as openly as I want. If people have a problem with it, that’s exactly what it is: their problem. I love being gay because I came to accept it through years of struggle and introspection and self-discovery. It is a big part of who I am because in accepting the fact that I was gay, I came to know myself better and become the man I am today. I love my gay friends because in many ways they have become as close as family–even while my family was still struggling to accept it or wasn’t around to support me when I needed it, and I don’t want to hide them from the Marine Corps any more.

Additionally, I don’t want anyone else to worry about affecting my career by people finding out that I’m gay. Friends, boyfriends, and family have all expressed to me over the years the stress they felt for fear of outing me. That fear was an unjust burden, and came at a price that cannot be repaid. I want those days behind us. I want people to know that they can come to me for counsel about anything, and now a whole new aspect of myself has come available to those seeking my guidance. Although I don’t want my service to be characterized by my sexuality, I want to be an example for people to realize it is possible to be a gay Marine and just as effective as anyone else. Without making grand announcements, I want people to come to know and see that, whether through me or through any of my friends and family. If they’re proud of me, I want people to know, and I want them to know how and why. I think that’s important.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be putting my thoughts together to make a YouTube video for the Trevor Project “It Gets Better” series. I want to wait until the media has moved on from this story to something else so it doesn’t get swept away in all of that, and I want to see how things settle out and get a chance to adjust myself to the new environment I now serve in. Reading the recent news about young people committing suicide after being bullied for being gay makes me both sad and angry. Sexuality shouldn’t be something we have to talk about in YouTube videos, but if it can save a life, it is irresponsible not to.

One of the speakers at the SLDN event in San Diego ended his remarks by talking about the last line of the Star Spangled Banner. We sing about the land of the free and the home of the brave. The gays and lesbians who have served the military until now have always been brave, but now they are also free.

I am so happy we can all breathe a little easier. Thank you all for your love and support.

Author: Matthew

U.S. Marine Corps officer living in North Carolina. The views expressed here are my own, and are in no way intended to represent the United States Marine Corps, Department of Defense or any of its components.

20 thoughts on “Thoughts on the end of DADT”

  1. OohRahhhhh! Yes indeed take a huge breather! I am so proud of you and all you have done to surface the truth about having to keep your life completely offline. I’m looking forward to watching your Trevor project video!

  2. I can relate to the part of your piece about friends and family members being scared to death that they’d inadvertently out you. About 10 years ago, while in the middle of a 5-year relationship with a woman in the Navy, I was interviewed as part of her clearance process. I spent about six months absolutely paranoid and dreading that interview. When the time actually came for the military officer to come to our home, I was a raw nerve. Keep in mind that by this time, we had completely rearranged our house, making the guestroom look like my room and boxing up every solitary hint of our life together. While being interviewed, by this man about half my age, all I could think about was, “answer the questions as honestly as possible, don’t blush, don’t stammer….” It was awful. Besides being asked why we had moved across the country together, the rest of the questions were pretty benign until the dreaded, “what is the nature of your relationship?” To which I replied (with a no, duh look), “we’re friends.” I guess my acting skills served me well because she received her top-security clearance and all was well with the world. I do think though, that my hair grayed significantly during that interview.

    I’m not even in the military. Years ago when I considered joining after college, I just didn’t think I could handle the DADT policy. But as I’ve read comments by ignorant people, I too can’t stand the belief that gay people are rubbing it in others’ faces by being truthful. With straight counterparts, you hear about dates, marriage woes, kids, he’s cute, she’s hot…etc ad nauseam…But the minute, a gay soldier dare speak of a date with his boyfriend the previous weekend or the second that a picture of that special someone is seen on Facebook, suddenly the gays are shoving it down your throat. Give me a break.

    Thanks again for your post and of course, for your service.

  3. Thank you for your eloquent statement that gives words to the emotions of so many men who cannot verbalize their feelings. I am unable to serve in such a capacity, not for sexuality, but mental abilities following an accident. In many ways, it is much more stigmatized, yet invisible, much like being gay. Was recently forced into retirement, laying a life before me that leaves the future bleak at best. Congratulations of having your options opened to you for your future!
    All the best always – Mike

  4. Been following you on twitter for awhile. I think you’re incredibly brave, and you obviously love your country to have stayed in the service (and the closet) for so long. Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Matt,
    I had to think about how to reply to your post for a day now and first I want to say that I feel very much like you. I am so happy I don’t have to say my fiancé and use ambiguous terms when referring to her. A fellow Marine just asked me if my man likes to play sports and I said “no, she will only run for beer.” I didn’t have to just say “no” or agree with the gender. I was able to admit I was dating another woman without worrying about loosing my life nor putting my fellow Marine in a predicament.

    On the other hand, I am still afraid of how the families of gay military members will be treated by the other families. My fiancé has a 13 year old daughter who is very proud to call me “mom” and to tell her friends “my mom is a Marine.” Yet, despite the DADT repeal, I am still terrified of how other kids will treat her. How will the other wives treat my soon to be wife? And I hate that even when we get married neither her nor my step daughter will be my dependents. I know that DOMA doesn’t have much life in it, but I don’t know if it will die soon enough. I am due for orders next year and if my monitor decides to send me to Okinawa I don’t know what I am going to do. My partner supports me and is very, very proud of me and is actually fascinated by the military way of life. She has helped a couple of wives through deployment and she has taken care of many of my friends when it was their turn to deploy. Yet, if I deploy she will have very limited support from the family readiness officer since she won’t be a recognized dependent.

    I have had a couple of my close friends tell me “I didn’t really understand the need for the DADT repeal until I knew you were dating another woman. Now, I want that law gone. I don’t want you to have to hide.” But as you wrote, there are still plenty of ignorant people out there that will try to keep us down. Sometimes I keep myself down! I find myself worrying about what those superior officers that have mentored me through my 16 years in the Marine Corps will think or say. How will they react the next time they see me and when the conversation about a new love comes out I introduce them to my wife! I know I shouldn’t worry; I know that I gained their respect for my performance as an officer and for being a descent human being. I am still that officer and descent human being.

    1. Cat — Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me. I, too, am concerned about what those senior to me might think. I would like to think that I’ve proven myself through my performance and professionalism, and I have faith in the Marine Corps that, despite whatever personal feelings they may have, if they are truly the Marines I believe them to be, there will be no problem. In the days since repeal, I honestly haven’t heard much of anything. It’s probably because I’m single and don’t have the pressure of a relationship, or it could be that still most people don’t know. It could even be that most people don’t care. I’m happy that you have people who are supporting you–for what it’s worth, you have my support as well.

  6. Matthew, Bravo Zulu to you for putting into words what I and many of our fellow gay and lesbian veterans and active duty service members have had to endure under DADT. You have eloquently expressed all that is right and true about the sacrifices we have made to serve our country, bearing an unjust burden that none of our straight peers have had to carry. The fact that you are a Marine, and the fact that you are a Company Commander of future Marines makes your thoughts all the more important. Marines carry a special cachet in our society; to the public, to the media, and to Congress, Marines are our nation’s warriors. By your example you have shown that gays can indeed be warriors, that we are indistinguishable from our straight counterparts and we are as worthy of respect, honor and admiration as any of our straight counterparts. As the most senior military man to self-identify as gay, I salute you. Semper Fi !

  7. Yes, that ‘rubbing into faces’ of a mere bit of information about someone. That strikes me as very odd. That phrase plus the ‘shoving down throats’, those seem to pop up rather a lot.
    It’s about levels of discomfort, isn’t it? The more dramatic the phrase, the higher the discomfort.
    It’s that person saying: ‘I don’t know how I’ll react when someone talks to me about them being gay, I’d rather not hear it because it makes me uncomfortable, and when I’m severely uncomfortable, then… uh then…’ – and the ‘then’ bit is when my musing breaks off because I really don’t know what that person thinks would happen. And that’s why I wanted to comment: I don’t think they know either.
    The paradox is that people would become more comfortable when they do talk about things because then the realisation can set in that even though people are different (whether because of their orientation, or the sports team they support, or what have you), everyone is still a person with strengths and foibles and all sorts of interesting things about them, – just like everybody else. A lot of people just don’t give themselves the chance to figure this out.
    This may be naive of me but I wonder what would happen if you treated people in the way you want them to react. There is a phrase I am looking for that’s on the tip of my tongue, and nada. It’s not ‘casting pearls before swine’, that’s not it at all. I mean to signify that you can pay people a compliment about something that they might not actually be good at, not just yet anyway. It makes them want to live up to the esteem in which you hold them. Which is really just a bit of a psychological trick but if it makes things better?
    I wonder what would happen if you very, very gently teased someone (perhaps not someone senior to you, of course) that you wouldn’t dream of rubbing anything in at all, but that you’re sure they’d be able to cope admirably with hearing that someone is gay, they’d be just fine. You know the kind of teasing that invites the other person to laugh with you, no-one is the butt of any joke. The implication being that they’d do much better than they think they would.
    I would guess that some people might feel a bit sheepish, others would just look rather haunted and some would scurry off hastily. They might then get the chance to think about whether your confidence in them ‘being able to cope just fine’ is well placed or not. If maybe they might have been overreacting before.
    I’m sorry if none of this is useful. What I am trying to say is that whenever someone puts across an attitude it is often being picked up and even echoed by the other person. Particularly if they’re not sure how they should react they’ll take it as their cue. If you pretend you’re utterly relaxed, neutral, assured, comfortable, – and expect the other person to be as well – then all this become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
    Sorry if this is too much like psychological gaming techniques.
    My two cents worth.

    Thanks very much for your post, I very much enjoyed reading it. It’s the personal stories that make all the difference, particularly to those of us who don’t have a clue or real insight.
    I’m so glad that DADT is gone. You and everyone else really have every right to live your life as openly as you want. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must be to look over your shoulder all the time, never relax, never slip up. It is an immense burden and I greatly admire anyone who had and has to serve under this sort of pressure.
    I also think that it must be beneficial to the people around you when you are able to stop being vague and no longer freeze people out when they just wanted to have a friendly conversation. When what you say and do comes from a place that’s real and brings across the authentic you.
    On a less serious note: I wish you a much improved social life!

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments! I actually put into practice one of your ideas at a recent event. I introduced my date to everyone as though there was nothing unusual about him and I being there together. The responses were great, even from those who I anticipated might be uneasy with us. After I treated them in this way–with the respect I expected in return–it would have been impossible for them to have then become uncomfortable, because doing so would have been to admit they didn’t deserve the credit I gave them. Worked like a charm and we had a fabulous time. More thoughts on that night in a future entry!!

  8. Very glad that my thoughts were a bit redundant! I did begin to worry whether it might have been inappropriate to post my comment, after. Um, got carried away in my musing. The phrase I was looking for was ‘taking the wind out of their sails’. Maybe that can be the hot air being produced, or the bluster…?
    I absolutely totally love that the expectation/respect/credit thing worked for you! Completely delighted. I would love to hear more about the event if you feel like sharing. I did follow DADT repeal developments very closely, since summer/autumn last year, and I am highly fascinated by what changes there might have been since. The experience of other nations, and the working group survey, did suggest repeal would be a huge old yawn of a non-event and it seems to be. But that’s the official line and it would be wonderful to know just a little bit more of what it’s like, how things have been for people. I think that personal stories have the potential to change a lot of hearts and minds, particularly those that include the little illuminating details which grab your attention by virtue of their authenticity.
    Very glad you got to take a date, and did. Wishing you all the very best!

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